Poet Turns To Queens For Inspiration
By JENNIFER POLLAND
“You’ve seen my ‘death mask’ in the museum’s Nile/ wing by an artist I hired myself…Taking flight is my talent. Let Death play solitaire,/ or else play with you his eternal, stinking/ game of boredom. That’s not for me. I’m everywhere/ and nowhere, which is why you found my casket bare.”
Written in the early morning hours in the Egyptian wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this poem, “The Egyptian Queen Gives Death the Slip,” sets the tone as the opening poem of Maria Terrone’s new book of poetry, “A Secret Room in Fall.”
“A Secret Room in Fall” is Terrone’s second book of poetry, and already it has earned the 2005 Robert McGovern Publication Prize, a literary prize awarded to new poets over the age of 40. Terrone’s first book of poetry, “The Bodies We Were Loaned,” was published in May 2002.
Terrone, who is the assistant vice president for communications at Queens College, never seriously considered a career in poetry. Instead, she followed a more traditional career track in public relations and communications. Although she continued to dabble in poetry, it wasn’t until 1990 when she began working at Hunter College, that she came to seriously reconsider poetry.
“I thought it was so wonderful that I was working in a place where there were poets on the faculty,” Terrone said. “I took advantage of that and ended up summoning my courage and showing my accrued poems to some of the faculty. William Pitt Root [a poet and professor at Queens College] was supportive and said, ‘You really need to take your talent more seriously.’ I determined then that I would make up for lost time.”
Terrone began reading contemporary poetry magazines and writing more poems—many of which were published in various magazines, like The Hudson Review, Poetry, and Poetry International. With several published poems under her belt, Terrone began compiling enough pieces to publish a book of poetry.
“Books don’t get published overnight,” Terrone said. “It’s very difficult because you are competing with a lot of other people and there is no money in it. It took me about three years to publish, which isn’t bad at all.”
As a life-long resident of Jackson Heights, Terrone said that Queens has acted as her most influential muse.
“Queens is a vastly different place now than it was when I was a kid,” Terrone said. “The whole diversity and population explosion is absolutely wonderful. When I walk down 74th Street, there are these gorgeous silk saris in the store windows, ornate gold jewelry in other windows, and the smells coming from the Argentinean steak houses. It’s a very rich and stimulating environment.”
In “The Fruited Plain” Terrone writes, “No surprise—desire is why we came,/ and this fruited plain knows no fence,/ pushing out to sidewalk shoppers intent on seizing the best. We sniff, squeeze, exclaim/ to companions in Farsi, French, English, Urdu,/ Spanish, Cantonese, Korean, Russian, Creole.” The poem was inspired by a local Korean fruit and vegetable market in Jackson Heights.
In every poem, Terrone said that she tries to engage the senses: smell, touch, taste, sight, and hearing.
“It’s very important to me to try and engage the senses in my poetry,” Terrone said. “I don’t particularly like abstract poetry. Poetry has a bad reputation because a lot of people think it’s like an incomprehensible puzzle, and that’s not good. I like my poems to communicate, and one of the ways to do that is to engage the readers by helping them see and hear and touch.”
Although she refused to categorize her poetry into any specific genre, Terrone said that her work is very imagistic and tries to encompass a wide range of subjects. Writing about everything from Pompeii to the “X-Files,” Terrone said that she tries to “give voice to people in the shadows—people from other times and other places.”
In “For Blanche, Who Named the Colors,” for example, Terrone imagines a lonely woman whose job is to devise names for paint colors. Terrone writes, “Praise Blanche, who lived alone/ in a ground-floor flat/ but dwelled in kingdoms/ of Venetian Marble and Antique Pearl./ Pondering colors/ for the paint company,/ she discovered each one’s soul/ and gave them their names.”
Terrone has already passed her first major hurdle by getting her book published, but in order for the book to sell, she still has to promote her work and establish her name as a poet. Until then, she will continue to work at Queens College while writing her poetry on the side.
“Now my job is to get the book out there because with a lot of books of poetry, you go through all the work of putting it together and getting it published, but then you don’t want it to just fall into oblivion,” Terrone said. “Now I am trying to line up readings and get reviews, but it’s very hard.”